History in Film

Thursday, July 25, 2024 at 05:00 PM

Event contact

Stephanie Holt

History in Film 

From Vikings to Bridgerton, historical drama is so popular it may be the main way many people form a sense of life in the past. The past (or an alternative version of it) provides a powerful backdrop for action, intrigue and romance.

But how accurate is the screen's portrayal of historical events? Does authenticity matter? And what of the role of the historian? In difficult, disputed histories, can film help to reckon with the past, encouraging a more open engagement with contentious narratives?

In this seminar, prominent historians Professor Emeritus Peter McPhee AM and Dr James Findlay explore the questions raised by two very different films — the blockbuster Napoleon and the searing colonial drama The Nightingale.

Peter McPhee AM was appointed to a Personal Chair in History at the University of Melbourne in 1993. He was Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and then the University's first Provost in 2007-09. He is now an Emeritus Professor. He has published widely on the history of France since 1770, most recently Robespierre: a Revolutionary Life (2012); and Liberty or Death: the French Revolution (2016). He is currently the Chair of the History Council of Victoria, the state’s peak body for history, and Patron of the History Teachers Association of Victoria.

Dr James Findlay is an Associate Lecturer in the discipline of history at The University of Sydney. He teaches Australian history and has a research focus on historical film and television studies, convict history, Australian popular culture, and public history. His first book, Caught on Screen: Australia’s Convict History in Film and Television is due for release in 2025.


The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

We thank the series sponsors, Monash University Publishingthe Monash University History Program and the Old Treasury Building.

Posted by on July 18, 2023

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The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

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Our calendar lists all upcoming public events arranged by the History Council of Victoria (HCV), plus events in Victoria, Australia, that are added by our Friends and Members.

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As the peak body for history in Victoria, the History Council makes submissions on current issues. In doing this, the HCV Board is guided by its Advocacy Policy and by the Value of History, a statement developed co-operatively by the HCV and the History Councils of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

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Since 2015, the HCV has been pleased to sponsor the Years 9 and 10 category of the Historical Fiction Competition organised by the History Teachers' Association of Victoria.

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The HCV was formed as an advisory body in 2001 and incorporated in 2003. It comprises representatives from cultural and educational institutions and heritage bodies; history teachers and curriculum advisors; academic and professional historians; and local, Indigenous, community and specialist history organisations.

As the peak body for history, the HCV has both ‘outward-looking’ roles (including advocacy and representation to government and the wider community, consultation, community education, and networking with allied interest groups) and ‘inward-looking’ roles (including member support, information dissemination, and networking between members).



The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342